Why concentrate on the Catholics?

April 7, 2010

You may think I’m just an anti-Catholic moron who’s posting these things just to discredit the Church (I have been much more vocal on the issue on facebook than here). To a certain extent that’s true; I think this is a good opportunity for people to drop this particular brand of superstition and examine their beliefs, just like if, for example, an altmed practitioner was convicted of causing death by negligence or something, I’d use that to show how dangerous some beliefs can be. When I left the Church, I was exposed to a way of thinking which helped me raise my critical thinking skills significantly, not just on the issue of religion but on many others too, and I think that would undoubtedly be a force for good if it happened to more people.

But there are other reasons to reign in on the Catholic Church right now. I’m not naiive enough to think the Church is completely rotten and that there’s a much higher rate of paedophilia* amongst the priesthood than in the general population, or amongst other professional groups, so why am I concentrating on the Catholics? Is this a form of persecution?

Well, one thing is that many of the priests have abused children whilst they were carrying out their duties. It’s not just a paedophile who happens to be a priest as well like it would be in many other professions, it’s a paedophile who used his status, authority and position of trust to rape or molest children. That said, that would also be true of a paedophile who worked in an orphanage or a school, for example, so that alone doesn’t justify it.

Another thing is the widespread nature of the abuse. Now let’s hypothesise a large chain of orphanages in many countries around the world, with an abuse problem as big as the problem that the Church has now. You would think that in such a big organisation the problem would have been picked up and measures put in place to make absolutely sure that similar things didn’t happen again. The same is true of the Church now. Now I probably wouldn’t focus on that because it doesn’t really have much to do with religion, and I like to focus on counter-apologetics, but the press would have every reason to attack that organisation. The fact is, however, that there has never been an abuse scandal that has been as widespread as the one the Catholic Church is facing now.

On a similar vein, the way the Church has dealt with this problem is very different to the way a different kind of organisation would. If the directorship of our hypothetical orphanage chain discovered it had an abuse problem, and that throughout the management system the problem had been covered up, heads would roll and people would be facing court proceedings. Not so with the Church. And if the orphanage did handle it as badly as the Church has, then the press would be all over them in the same way they have with the Church.

The current scandal also raises a very interesting question which is very particular to the Vatican and no other organisation, in that the higher echelons of the Church are dealt with under canon law and not under secular law in many countries. As I understand it, the guidelines in place in most of the countries now state that priests accused of abuse should be reported to the state authorities, but not so with people accused of covering-up the situation. Ordinarily they’d count as an accessory, they’d be aiding a paedophile, but AFAIK noone has ever faced a trial for that. Instead they are tried according to canon-law, which only laicises priests and doesn’t seem to exact any real punishment or justice.

Sometimes it is reasonable to concentrate on a specific organisation when you are going to contradict something that someone in that organisation said. So for example, although it is nothing to do with the Catholic Church to deny the link between homosexuality and paedophilia, it does bear some relevance when the President of the Catholic League, that prat Bill Donohue, keeps spouting lies about it. And mentioning that the Catholic Church had a paedophile problem all the way back in 305AD isn’t all that relevant, since presumably other organisations back then will have had similar problems, but it does become relevant when the Pope implies in his apology letter that the abuse scandal is a modern phenomenon, and that the Church has had a long, happy history in Ireland.

And so finally we get to the main reason why I think it is perfectly justifiable to concentrate on paedophile priests rather than on paedophiles within other organisations. The reason paedophilia within the Catholic Church is so sickening is because the Church above all others claims to be a moral authority. Their leader claims to be God’s representative on Earth. The Church is constantly peering into other people’s private lives and telling people what they can and can’t do in the privacy of their own bedrooms. It is obsessed with sexual ‘morality’, attacking things that I and most rational people don’t consider immoral – homosexuality, divorce, contraceptive use, abortion – whilst the whole time their own members have been raping children behind closed doors, and other members have been letting them get away with it! That’s why the Church is fair game for attack, and that’s why no matter how much the press concentrate on them over other organisations, you cannot call the media coverage persecution, or a conspiracy against the Church or the Pope.

*As I pointed out in my last post, I am fully aware that the abuse scandal is not merely about paedophilia, sexual abuse or even just abuse of minors, but seeing as a lot of the press have been concentrating on the sexual abuse of minors, that’s what much of what I’ve posted on Facebook has been, and it’s easier to talk about ‘paedophilia’ and ‘paedophiles’ than ‘the sexual abuse of minors’ and ‘the sexual abusers of minors’.

In which Bill Donohue goes onto the crotch-kicking list

April 4, 2010

Again I find myself having to apologise for an incredibly long post, but there’s a lot to get in. If you’re only interested in the Bill Donohue part I suggest you skip to just above where the video is, the rest of it is about the Vatican’s reaction to the media coverage.

It’s completely unsurprising to see the reaction of high-profile Catholics to the revelations about the abuse scandal and its subsequent cover-up. As early as Palm Sunday, just a few days after the revelations about the Pope’s involvement in the Wisconsin case, Ratzinger himself dismissed the reports as ‘petty gossip’, whereas L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, described the media’s coverage of the scandal as a “clear and ignoble intent of trying to strike Benedict and his closest collaborators.” In a shocking display of paranoia and lunacy, the Pope’s personal preacher likened the media coverage to “the collective violence suffered by the Jews.” That’s strange, I don’t remember hearing about any journalists rounding priests up onto trains at gunpoint and taking them off to be murdered. I don’t remember hearing about any violence at all, for that matter. Talk about shooting the messenger!

The Pope’s own words are particularly revealing, claiming that his faith gave him the “courage of not allowing oneself to be intimidated by the petty gossip of dominant opinion”. How about the courage to step forward, admit that the Vatican (and he himself) has made serious mistakes, and take measures to try and get justice? Real measures that will make a difference, not just internal investigations that usually either go nowhere or just end up with someone being de-frocked, relying on divine judgement to provide actual punishment instead of jailtime. Measures like turning Cardinal Bernard Law over to secular justice instead of giving him a cushy job in the Vatican, safe from prosecution. Measures like calling for the resignation of Cardinal Sean Brady who was involved in a case where children were forced to sign oaths of silence. Why has the Pope not done these relatively simple things? Because it’s not absolutely necessary yet in order to save the reputation of the Church. I am increasingly starting to believe that the only reason they’ve even admitted these cases is because denying it would be an incredibly bad PR move. Look at the way they’re pretending like this is the only blemish on the Church’s otherwise spotless reputation, ignoring the Pope’s contribution to the HIV/AIDS death toll, the sexual abuse of women in the Church, and the Church’s role in the Rwandan Genocide, for example, neither of which have merited an apology from the Pope, because they’re apparently not serious enough to threaten the reputation of the church to such a degree.

National leaders of the Catholic Church were also quick to defend the Pope. Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, said that Pope Benedict was not an idle observer and that his actions spoke as well as his words. I fail to see how he can claim that when child abuse suspects are sitting under the Pope’s protective wing. He also said that the Pope introduced measures to help stop the abuse, although the ones that he listed are, quite frankly, things that anyone in their right mind would have introduced and are hardly trailblazing stuff. Even if they had been, the Pope’s later actions do not justify what he did earlier in his career with his involvement in the Munich and Wisconsin cases. I also noticed here in the Portuguese press that Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, the most senior member of the clergy in Portugal, said that there was a conspiracy against the Church and the Pope. He also claimed that keeping the abuse allegations secret was something ordinary to any kind of family and that dirty clothes shouldn’t be washed in public.

And so we come to Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League, who opens his flabby jowls whenever anyone comments on anything remotely Catholic. The Catholic League took out an advert in the New York Times (the same publication that revealed the allegations about the Pope’s involvement in the Fr Murphy case), where he tried to defend the Vatican from what he perceives as attacks by the media, rather than revelations. He makes a lot of claims about the Fr Murphy case which I don’t really want to get too deep into, although I’ll point out that he says:

Cardinal Ratzinger, now the pope, was the head of the office that was contacted. There is no evidence that he knew of it. But even if he did, he would have had to allow for an investigation. While the inquiry was proceeding, Murphy died.

– to which I call BULLSHIT! The records revealed by the New York Times showed that Fr Murphy had already admitted that he’d abused around 200 deaf children. The bishop of his diocese had written to Ratzinger personally asking for action from his office. The bishop received no response, and the New York Times speculated that it was on the basis of a letter from Murphy himself to Ratzinger, saying that he wanted to die with dignity in the priesthood.

But that’s not the claim I want to focus on. I mentioned in my post analysing the Pope’s apology that in the past, abuse was blamed on homosexuals within the Church, but I foolishly believed those days were firmly in the past, particularly as the Church now needs to save some serious face. I was apparently wrong. Bill Donohue’s last claim in his ad reads:

The Times continues to editorialise about the “paedophilia crisis”, when all along it’s been a homosexual crisis. Eighty percent of the victims of priestly sexual abuse are male and most of them are post-pubescent. While homosexuality does not cause predatory behaviour, and most gay priests are not molesters, most of the molesters have been gay.

And here is a video where he defends his statement.

As evidence for his assertion, Donohue cites this study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2004, which found that “81% of all the victims have been male… and that 75% are post-pubescent” to use his own words. Now I’m no psychologist but I’m not sure that just because the victim was male and post-pubescent, that makes the abuser a homosexual, or makes the problem a ‘homosexual problem’. I certainly don’t find 13 year old girls attractive even if they are post-pubescent, and I doubt that changes significantly among the homosexual portion of society. It appears to me to be a much more complicated situation than Donohue is making out, particularly when you take into account the fact that rape is rarely a case of someone being hopelessly attracted to their victims. It seems to me to be less a case of sexual attraction and more to do with opportunity to offend or some kind of psychological condition. I’d also say that he is confusing the act of sexual abuse with a sexual preference. But like I say, I’m no psychologist, so I don’t know. I just think it’s a rash judgement for Donohue to make based on the data he presents.

Next I went and looked for that study to see if his figures were right, but actually I didn’t even have to go past the first mandate for the study, which reads:

Examine the number and nature of allegations of sexual abuse of minors under the age of 18 by Catholic priests between 1950 and 2002.

Yes, to justify his claim that most victims of abuse are male and post-pubescent, he’s using a study which only investigated the allegations of sexual abuse of minors under the age of 18. So not only is he making a rash conclusion based on the data, but the data itself is skewed. Bill is caught in the awkward position of saying that it’s a homosexual attraction when the victim is post-pubescent, but then also arbitrarily cuts off his dataset at 18 years of age, ignoring a lot more abuse cases.

Now don’t get me wrong, I do agree with Donohue on one thing – it is overly simplistic to refer to the abuse scandal as a paedophilia crisis, for several reasons. Firstly, the term ‘paedophilia’ refers to a sexual preference, not the act of sexual abuse itself. It also only refers to the preference of pre-pubescent children, as opposed to hebephilia and ephebophilia. This is also why it is dangerous to brand anyone who has sex with a minor with such an emotionally charged word as ‘paedophile’ – it could well be a 19 year old having a relationship with a 15 year old, which isn’t particularly perverted or even all that unusual, although it is illegal. In any case, calling it a ‘paedophilia crisis’ also ignores the abuse of adults which is carried out by clergy.

But instead of responsibly exchanging that term for ‘abuse scandal’ or something similar, Bill decides to label it a “homosexual crisis”. So let’s see if we can take a look at the stats for over 18’s. They’re quite difficult to find because there haven’t been an awful lot of reports on it, but I do remember reading a piece recently posted by Tessera, regular contributor to Layscience.net, where she reported that up to 95% of abuse victims are actually adult females. Now I’ve been trying to track down where she got that figure from, but all I can find is this paper, citing a national study called Chaves and Garland (I presume the author means Chavez) on page 7, and I can’t find it. In any case it says women make up 96% of those abused. This website also seems to be happy to say that 95% of abuse victims are adult females, although the situation gets a bit more complicated because we’re not talking just about abuse in the Catholic Church. Here is some further reading if you’re interested.

So it seems here that Bill could be completely wrong. The majority of the abuse victims are adult females, and it is only when we look specifically at minors that most of the victims are male. As I’ve already commented, that seems to me to be a more abnormal phenomenon, and can’t be put down to homosexuality. Funny that a guy who, as he says himself in the video, has a doctorate in Sociology and claims to “not [be] unacquainted with how to read the social science data” seems to have failed to correctly read the social science data. But of course Bill doesn’t know when to shut his trap and he goes on to imply a link between celibacy and the number of homosexuals in the church, saying:

“They’re [Bill Mayer etc] saying that if you got rid of celibacy, the priesthood wouldn’t be so attractive to homosexuals, therefore you wouldn’t have the molestation problem. Actually I agree with that!”

Of course he’s completely twisting the words of Bill Mayer, but I have no idea how he thinks that celibacy makes the church attractive to homosexuals. None whatsoever. In any case, the idea that celibacy is the cause of molestation is plausible, but also seems to be a myth. Tessera cites a study showing that whilst 3.1% of regularly churchgoing women have been sexually abused, actually the majority (2.2% of the total) of those women were abused by married clergy. (Edit: I should point out that this alone doesn’t discount celibacy being a cause of molestation. What is more relevant is the proportion of abusers within celibate churches, not the proportion of women abused by celibate abusers. However I’m happy to take the word of people in the field that it’s not a major cause.)

So Bill’s on the crotch-kicking list. Maybe when it gets to about 5 people I’ll actually write it down and stick it on my wall.

The Pope’s non-apology

March 29, 2010

This has once again turned into a really long post, sorry if it seems a bit daunting. I was also going to discuss the Church’s reaction to the Pope’s alleged involvement in the case of a priest in Wisconsin, but I think I’ll have to leave that for a separate post in a few days.

I have so far been fairly quiet on the question of the abuse of children within the Catholic Church, at least on the blog. When something so horrific happens, there’s not an awful lot that can be said. I don’t think anyone disagrees very much. But there is something that can be looked at a little bit closer, and that’s Pope Palpatine’s  apology, or as I think it’ll be fairly obvious by the end of this post, his non-apology. Fortunately the Telegraph has published the whole piece so we don’t have to rely entirely on news coverage of the apology and the reaction to it, which inevitably only includes the parts which fit with the news agency’s agenda (not that I’m any better, I’m not going to go through it all).

So the Pope actually starts off quite well, he appears to genuinely be concerned and expressing regret for what’s happened. I’m sure that on some sort of level he is concerned, but it’s pretty clear from my reading of his apology that he’s more concerned about the image of the church than genuinely looking for reparation for what members of the church did.

Perseverance and prayer are needed, with great trust in the healing power of God’s grace.

At the same time, I must also express my conviction that, in order to recover from this grievous wound, the Church in Ireland must first acknowledge before the Lord and before others the serious sins committed against defenceless children.

Such an acknowledgement, accompanied by sincere sorrow for the damage caused to these victims and their families, must lead to a concerted effort to ensure the protection of children from similar crimes in the future.

As you take up the challenges of this hour, I ask you to remember “the rock from which you were hewn” (Is 51:1).

Reflect upon the generous, often heroic, contributions made by past generations of Irish men and women to the Church and to humanity as a whole, and let this provide the impetus for honest self-examination and a committed programme of ecclesial and individual renewal.

It is my prayer that, assisted by the intercession of her many saints and purified through penance, the Church in Ireland will overcome the present crisis and become once more a convincing witness to the truth and the goodness of Almighty God, made manifest in his Son Jesus Christ.

Look at the message he’s putting across here, he’s saying “yes, the Church has done some bad things, but try not to think about that, think about faith and the good we’ve done in the past, think about the Bible, and most importantly pray, prayer will make it all better.” He does it again further on in the letter:

With this Letter, I wish to exhort all of you, as God’s people in Ireland, to reflect on the wounds inflicted on Christ’s body, the sometimes painful remedies needed to bind and heal them, and the need for unity, charity and mutual support in the long-term process of restoration and ecclesial renewal.

“What’s a nice-sounding way of saying ‘please don’t stop coming to mass and leaving money in our coffers’? Oh I know, we’ll call it ‘unity, charity and mutual support.'” It’s even more obvious later in the letter when he’s addressing the victims of abuse and their families (I won’t reproduce it all here so for context you should read it within the whole piece):

I pray that, by drawing nearer to Christ and by participating in the life of his Church – a Church purified by penance and renewed in pastoral charity – you will come to rediscover Christ’s infinite love for each one of you.

Purified by penance? How about purifying the Church (‘Purifying’ – I like how he seems to imply this is the only blemish on an otherwise spotless Church. HIV? What’s that?)  by kicking out the pedo priests and making sure they end up in jail? There’s a similar bit of poetic bullshit when he addresses the young people of Ireland:

We are all scandalised by the sins and failures of some of the Church’s members, particularly those who were chosen especially to guide and serve young people.

But it is in the Church that you will find Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and for ever (cf. Heb 13:8).

He loves you and he has offered himself on the cross for you.

Seek a personal relationship with him within the communion of his Church, for he will never betray your trust!

He alone can satisfy your deepest longings and give your lives their fullest meaning by directing them to the service of others.

Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and his goodness, and shelter the flame of faith in your heart.

“Yeah, we’ve harboured paedophiles, but look at the little baby Jesus!” Would someone who is genuinely trying to make reparations for what his organisation has done say all this? I think the only reason they’re even admitting what’s happened is because it’s already out in public and denying it would be a bad PR move. Remember that in the past, cases of abuse were frequently blamed on homosexuals within the church, and pointing at other religious groups as if to say ‘but they did it too’. The Church seems intent on saving face and deflecting blame above all else.

He then goes on to describe the long history of the Church in Ireland, as if to say that there’s a lot more to the Church than just this and that this is just a short episode that can soon be passed in the long scheme of things. I have a problem with that, we have no way of knowing just how long this has been going on, it could be that the abuse of children, both physical and sexual, has been going on throughout this whole long history. Indeed physical abuse certainly has been happening for a long time if you include corporal punishment. I think it’s naive to consider paedophilia and child abuse to be purely modern phenomena. He also includes this chunk of Catholic history in Ireland:

From the sixteenth century on, Catholics in Ireland endured a long period of persecution, during which they struggled to keep the flame of faith alive in dangerous and difficult circumstances.

Saint Oliver Plunkett, the martyred Archbishop of Armagh, is the most famous example of a host of courageous sons and daughters of Ireland who were willing to lay down their lives out of fidelity to the Gospel.

Again, do you see what he’s doing? “Look at these role models!” he’s saying, “They stuck with the Church through thick and thin, they went through a lot worse than this!” This little history class he’s giving is completely irrelevant to the issue at hand; it is pure PR. No mention of the Troubles by the way, this selective history lesson paints a perfect and persecuted picture of Catholicism in Ireland.

In almost every family in Ireland, there has been someone – a son or a daughter, an aunt or an uncle – who has given his or her life to the Church.

Irish families rightly esteem and cherish their loved ones who have dedicated their lives to Christ, sharing the gift of faith with others, and putting that faith into action in loving service of God and neighbour.

I think this is something of an inaccurate portrayal of the Catholic Church – they’re trying to make out like this is an organic, grass-roots organisation rather than the top-down hierarchy that it really is. The Church does not make itself accountable to its members. It’s almost like he’s trying to spread the blame out by saying that this is an organisation made up of the people of Ireland; they’re all part of the Church so this is their problem too. That is (in part) true, but it is shifting the focus of the blame away from the Vatican, and ignores the role played by the Church hierarchy in covering-up the abuse cases.

The next part is sickeningly obvious, and I’m surprised it got missed by the BBC article where I first heard about the apology letter:

In recent decades, however, the Church in your country has had to confront new and serious challenges to the faith arising from the rapid transformation and secularisation of Irish society.

Fast-paced social change has occurred, often adversely affecting people’s traditional adherence to Catholic teaching and values.

All too often, the sacramental and devotional practices that sustain faith and enable it to grow, such as frequent confession, daily prayer and annual retreats, were neglected.

Significant too was the tendency during this period, also on the part of priests and religious, to adopt ways of thinking and assessing secular realities without sufficient reference to the Gospel.

How dare he? How fucking dare he blame secular forces for something that happened under his and his predecessors’ own most holy noses? Don’t forget that much of this abuse happened at a time when the Catholic Church was deeply embedded into Irish society and politics, and that it is only now in more secular times, when the grip of the Church has loosened somewhat, that some of the truth has finally managed to come out. There is again this assumption that the abuse has only been going on relatively recently.

The letter is very long and I can’t go through it all with a fine toothcomb, but as I was reading through I was struck by a sense of disgust. Throughout every section the Pope appears to pay lip-service to the idea of justice and reconciliation, but it’s buried deep in flowery language about God’s mercy and talking about how prayer will be the solution. Only in the part addressed to the abusers of children does he speak about coming forward and admitting what they as individuals have done. Even then, however, he speaks of atonement “By offering prayers and penances for those you have wronged.” No civil authorities, no jailtime, no real justice by any means. So it was with some relief that I came to the last section, where Palpatine declares:

I now wish to propose to you some concrete initiatives to address the situation.

Brilliant! Unfortunately I assumed ‘concrete’ would refer to something material or specific, something that would actually bring about justice, but in reality his “initiatives to address the situation” just consist of more prayer and a proposed ‘Apostolic Visitation’ to Ireland.

Don’t believe me? Don’t believe that God’s own representative on Earth would propose such a dispairingly inadequate solution? Go ahead, read it. It’s the section at the end entitled “To all the faithful of Ireland.” All he proposes is devoting Lent and Friday penances to praying for the renewal of the Church, going to confession more often, paying more attention to Eucharistic adoration, a nationwide Mission, and this Apostolic Visitation. His solution is to stick with the Church then, basically. His reason for writing this letter is to try and keep people in the Church. Not justice, not reparation. “Please forgive the Church and keep giving us money.”

Now let’s look at what isn’t here. He does not at all acknowledge the role played by the Church hierarchy and the Vatican (and it seems, the Pope himself) in the cover-up of the abuse. Whenever there is a veiled reference to the cover-up, it’s obfuscated in vague expressions like “there was a well-intentioned but misguided tendency to avoid penal approaches to canonically irregular situations“, where he doesn’t say who avoided penal approaches, or “misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal, resulting in failure to apply existing canonical penalties“, where he acts as if the only reason it happened was because someone didn’t do what the Vatican said. He is blaming the grass-roots of the Church, in other words.

He also does not call for any definitive action, even though he tells the bishops that “only decisive action carried out with complete honesty and transparency will restore the respect and good will of the Irish people towards the Church to which we have consecrated our lives.” No clue as to what that decisive action should be, though. A swing and a miss.

He does not call for resignations of any bishops. This is particularly alarming in the case of Sean Brady, the leader of the Church in Ireland. Back in 1975 he was personally involved in a case where the victims of sexual abuse were made to sign oaths of silence. Despite having said in the recent past that if he found out his actions had led to the abuse of more children, he would resign, he has refused to resign over this revelation, claiming that he will only resign if asked to do so by the Pope. Palpatine, on the other hand, seems to have a policy of not sacking people, but merely accepting resignations. Catch 22.

He also only refers to the cases in Ireland, and doesn’t seem to acknowledge that the abuse has happened in the Church across the world. Why does he not do this? Because the only thing linking the Church in all these different countries is the Vatican, and he doesn’t want to draw attention to the Vatican’s role in the abuse. That would imply that the problem is endemic and therefore much bigger than the image he wants to put across.

So I hope by the end of this long post that you’re convinced this apology was actually not really an apology, but a way for the Church to try and save face and push blame away from the Vatican. It’s a shame that this apology has been swallowed whole by so many, because I think if more people just went and read it, they’d realise how inadequate it is too.

And me? Well I’m ashamed I was ever involved in such a disgusting institution.